Last weekend, as part of my new “One City, One Baytown” series, I previewed the results of our 2021 Community Survey and the City’s current position on the relocation of the USS Texas battleship. I intend to use this space to deliver my thoughts on several of the hot topic issues that we face together as a city. This week, I’d like to share a little history and my perspective of the future of the San Jacinto Mall, a subject that is very near and dear to those who remember the mall to be the primary shopping destination in Baytown.
First, a bit of context on the overall retail environment in the City of Baytown. As an indication of a strong local economy, the city has seen at least three straight years of sales tax revenue increases. In fact, this past year, Baytown had one of the strongest showings in sales tax receipts in the Houston metropolitan area.
And a new mall will certainly boost our economy even higher.
It’s important to remember the City does not own any of the mall property; that distinction goes to Fidelis Realty Partners. The City formed an agreement with Fidelis in 2015, which offered certain cash and future tax rebate incentives for its efforts to negotiate with the three anchor tenants of the mall – Sears, JCPenney, and Macy’s – and deliver a new shopping center. It has taken six years, but the acquisition of the entire property, including those owned by the anchor tenants, finally occurred this past August.
Now the work begins on the exciting part, the development of the new shopping center. But designing a new mall is not as easy as you may think, especially given all that has transpired since 2015. Even before COVID-19, shopping malls across the country were becoming obsolete; and now, after the pandemic, the retail environment has moved even further online. Fidelis’ model has had to change, too.
Given this new retail climate and Baytown residents’ expectation of a new, high quality shopping destination, adjustments to the current agreement with Fidelis are necessary. We believe Fidelis can go back to the drawing board and design a project that considers your desire for a venue of the highest standards possible.
Some in the community will say we should demand our money already invested back from Fidelis. This is short-sighted and may actually take us backward in our quest for a regional shopping destination. We want more and better, which is why I am working as part of a small council delegation on a new agreement with Fidelis, one that addresses the gaps in Fidelis’ presentation made at the Oct. 14 council meeting.
In the new agreement, the City will seek to address the retail portion of the development, and will focus on pedestrian mobility, appropriate incentives, and elevated signage, landscaping, and other standards.
Additionally, it’s important to stress that the goal of a new agreement will in no way be to incentivize the relocation of businesses already in Baytown to this new venue. As you know, some migration of retail from one space to another is always possible and is considered normal as part of the business cycle. But the City will work with Fidelis to incentivize performance: securing new businesses, not relocating existing businesses.
Fidelis has worked diligently in its efforts to bring our residents and council what we want, and I am grateful for the company’s interest in designing and building a high-quality shopping center. I firmly believe the finished product will be vastly improved, and one that you can be proud of.